Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Teaching by humiliation, explained

I had an email exchange with my son's teacher regarding the classroom incident in my previous post. I've posted it below. I think we were both pretty polite, which is an accomplishment.  But I still think this method has too high a potential to humiliate.  Many of my college students would be upset if I tried this on them--putting up (anonymously) some of their awkward sentences and having the class try to make sense of them.
Sent: Wednesday, December 08, 2010
Hi Ms. [Teacher], 
[My son] has told us that earlier this week you used one of his sentences or paragraphs as a teaching tool for the class. Even though it was anonymous, HE still knew it was his work, and it was humiliating to him to have students laughing over his mistakes.    
Please don't use this teaching method in the future. I want to reiterate that [my son] is sensitive, even ashamed, about his spelling and easily humiliated over it. 

He continues to work on spelling, and I see some progress.  He does well memorizing rules and applying them. 
Mom, Ph.D. 

Date: Wed, 8 Dec 2010 11:43:40 -0700 

Hi Mom, Ph.D.,

Thanks for your email. 

I have used student work as a meaningful way to teach and talk about student work for years. Kids can relate better to kid work sometimes.  The point isn't to point out a student's faults but to evaluate written work and improve proofreading skills.  [Your son] has also been one of the few students to have his writing shared to show an example of effective writing. That's a bummer he took this so personally. Many kids in my class have similar proofreading issues.  I always stress with my kids that everyone makes mistakes.

I understand that he is very sensitive about this one fault, but hopefully over time, he can learn to laugh at his mistakes and remember we can't be masters of everything. 

When I use examples in the future, I'll make sure to check that it not [your son's] work.
Ms. Teacher

Sent: Wednesday, December 08, 2010 12:19 PM

Thanks for understanding.

I can say that I wouldn't want my mistakes put before a class either, even if anonymously. [My son] stressed that some kids laughed, and if kids are laughing at an anonymous passage, chances are they are laughing AT the silly mistakes, not in sympathy with the author.

One alternative to consider is to use examples from previous years. That way, at least the author isn't present.

I hope [my son] can learn to laugh at his spelling mistakes, but I think that could only happen once he dramatically improves and has confidence in his spelling and grammar.
Mom, Ph.D.


Wed, 08 Dec 2010 14:12:49 
Thanks, Mom, Ph.D.  Oh by the way, I found the chicken chili at Costco - it's yummy with rice. 
[She liked my canned chili--longish story]

~~~~~~~~~ end of email exchange~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It isn't easy being a public school teacher, I know.

But it isn't always easy being a fifth grader. Especially if you are a fifth grader who spells "exactly" as "eggsakly."  

I also just caught on his homework, "Fredrick, a cereal killer, is a very immoral person." How does he know about cereal killers already?


  1. I'm sorry your son had to go through this experience. I'm a former teacher (high school) and already feel sorry for my children's future teachers (you were very polite and fair in your email).

    I think that the pedagogical benefits from this particular exercise do not seem to be good enough to continue the practice. Especially towards sensitive fifth graders (which is pretty much every kid). Maybe remind your son that she appears to have used his work in the past as an example of effective writing?

  2. Thanks ABDMama! It's great to hear from someone with experience. I will play up the positive side with son. Son and I also had a good laugh at his "cereal killers"--he is fine when he knows people are laughing WITH him, not at him.

    More email correspondence:

    Wednesday, December 08, 2010 9:23 PM
    Dear Ms. Teacher:
    Glad you found the Costco chili -- but now what is [my son] going to get you as a present for the holidays? :)

    I just found on his A.O. homework: "Fredrick, a cereal killer, is a very immoral person."
    Ms. Teacher--isn't 5th grade a little young to be teaching them about cereal killers?

    (yes, I'm just kidding! Though he did really write that)
    --Mom, Ph.D.

    Thu, 09 Dec 2010 07:44:33

    Poor Lucky Charms . . .
    --Ms. Teacher

  3. I was going to comment on your last post that if she wants to use authentic kid work that perhaps she should hold onto these things for use in the following years when the author is not present.

    That seems more than reasonable, and like a good idea for both examples of good and poor work. IMO.

  4. I agree Banshee. But I sense that she has dug in her heels; her compromise is not using my son's work again....
    I hope that she'll at least be more sensitive to the issue.